The Climb


Hi to all from Kargyak. So, another two weeks of school have just gone by. Teaching and everything go pretty smooth. We are running on the reduced schedule at this moment because there are only two of us. Nevertheless I gave the children the first written test last friday and I have to say that they all did really good! Much better than I expected. I just wonder that they might really pay some attention to what I say during the lessons. But enough joking :), it was a math test and there were exercises on multiplication and addition and subtraction even of large numbers. All of the kids but one girl were able to work it out on their own. Some of them made silly mistakes but they managed to reach the correct solution after I pointed the mistake out. Well, if it goes on like this I will have to start working on improving my math in couple of months to keep up with them :) After all it has been a while since I successfully passed the college mathematics exams. As for the English, there has been progress too. Although it is not as rapid as in the mathematics because except the local language the kids have to study also the “hindi” which means that the English alphabet is only the third in line. Yet still the oldest kids have mastered singular and plural, person in present simple, they are able to form basic questions and negations and so on. In addition to the regular lessons we are going to start special lessons for the slower as well as talented kids. But we won’t be able to do this until the Tibetan teachers come because in two people we are having tough time to manage the regular lessons.

I also should not forget to mention that the building works really good because we are able to teach without any problems even in the cold days we have now. The outside temperatures range from -13 °C in the morning to 5 - 6 °C in the afternoon. The temperature in the building is of course very different. If the sun is shining the temperature in the corridor reaches to 35 °C which is quite a lot - I could wear only a swimming suit there :) The temperature in the classrooms is about 20 °C, the humidity is around 60%. The inside temperature in the corridor drops to 6-7 °C during the night which is less than we want but we already know the reason for such a big decrease and we are trying to sort it out. Fortunately it is nothing complicated - we just have to plug all tiny crevices between the roof and the face of the building with special mixture made of yaks droppings. We hope the temperatures to rise after we finish this. Nevertheless the temperature in the classrooms remains at 13 °C even at night, so, we are able to keep on teaching without any problems. Otherwise it is so comfortable here that we even have one unwelcome guest - a mouse. So, we lay traps, then bacon to traps, the mouse not give a damn so we are the words of Jaromir Nohavica, a name in the Czech folk music. The truth is that we do not have any bacon so we lay just old bread and we hope that the mouse is really hungry. She occurs only in the area of the toilets at this moment so at least she does not scare the kids.

Anyway, the life here is not just about teaching and working on the building (even though these two things eat up most of the time). It is also about evenings with chang (local fermented drink that tastes like bad cider...but you get used to it) and about hikes up to the mountains in free days - which means every Sunday and also Saturday on every second week. So, I decide to share with you my latest experience from my first overnight trip.

I had a free weekend this week so I decided to go for an overnight hike to the hill which I can see from the village. I took the equipment for two days because on the second day I wanted to reach also the top of the hill (5 860 m above sea level) on the opposite side. I made it to the top of the lower hill last Sunday when I took only a light backpack carrying only few necessary things, and, from the top I was enviously staring at the glacier in front of me. Well, I have to say that the word “hill” does not really fit even to the mountain I scaled the first day. It is “only” 5 050 m high and it is pretty steep. It means “only” 950 m of vertical distance in such an altitude with 25 kg backpack. Let’s go!

I set out at about 9 a.m. from the school and in 15 min I met my fellow worker Yega from Tibet and Marketa. Right at the beginning I was stunned by the fact that I was carrying 25 kg backpack, they were carrying nothing and moreover they asked me to carry their water bottle because it was too heavy for them and they did not know where to put it. I was staring astonishingly for a moment but then I said why not, one extra kilo is not gonna kill me (I must make an impression of a very strong guy, I thought to myself boosting my ego). The good feeling did not last long, right behind the river which is about 500 m far from the village I thought I was going to die...and, we were walking down the hill! I’m not gonna make it, I thought, I barely made it last time carrying nothing so how could I make it this time with heavy backpack and plans for tomorrow when I want to go another 800 m of vertical distance higher! I must be crazy, but I won’t give up right after beginning, will I? So, I tried to encourage and stimulate myself and I found out that the frame of my backpack is broken. It was pulling the backpack to one side and back making it almost impossible to carry it. But I am a clever guy, real handyman who can find a way out of every problem :) I fixed the frame making it stronger then I took off several extra layers of clothing and I set out again.

I was not walking at the fastest pace yet still I reached the “lunchtime boulder” (flat boulder perfect for having lunch) half an hour earlier than the last time. It means that I must have been walking at the same pace or maybe even faster. I have to admit that in 2/3 or 3/4 of the way (it is hard to say because the horizons here look all the same) I was so exhausted that I was not able to say a word. Yeah, and also Yega was bugging me as he was running around effortlessly and without any problem. I was soothing myself by the fact that I was the one who was carrying all the stuff and also I told to myself that I cannot give up now, after I made it this far. Well, I did not give up and I reached the top before 3:15 p.m. - 15 min earlier than the last time. But I was feeling dizzy and I fell down several times as I was setting up the tent. I found some relief in the fact that Marketa was exhausted as much as I and maybe even more. Then I tried to melt snow on my kerosene stove but my effort was more like burning witches than cooking because, as I found out later - this kind of stove works only up to 4 500 m above sea level. After an hour I had quite smoked pot and several deciliters of water which should have been enough for tonight and tomorrow. I do not even mention that the water froze overnight even in the tent under the sleeping bag, so, I ate little bit of snow rather than trying to make the stove working again. Yega and Marketa went back to the village right after we reached the top so I stayed there alone.

The evening, as the melting-of-the-snow-story indicated, was pretty tough. The wind was blowing hard and it was much colder than I expected. Even though I have a very warm sleeping bag I did not get much sleep. I was awake every 3 hours - each time the sleeping bag opened around my neck and the cold air was flowing inside. I guess that the outside temperature was at least -20 °C. Still, I was in the altitude of 5 000 m. In the village, which is almost 1000 m lower, was -11 °C at that time, as I found out later from the meteo station. In short, it was an “interesting” night. In the morning I tried to figure out how to get into completely frozen pants - I thought that breaking them was not gonna hurt them. I had the very same problem with shoes. They froze to the ground and I had to use my ice ax to cut them out. Then I spend 15 min hopping around and trying to put on the shoe. It gave me a lesson - do not leave your shoes in the entrance! Anyway, I managed to get myself dressed and at about 7:30 I was ready to set out. Even though I left the tent and mattress at the campsite and therefore I had lighter backpack, I was almost crying how painful was every step on snowshoes. I could not breath, I could not control my legs...I had a hard time. Fortunately, it got better after half an hour and I was able to make even more than ten steps without stopping. I reached the lower summit and I had to take off some of my clothes again because the sun came up and I began to sweat in my merino wool underwear. I was dancing in my underwear on the rock which was only one by one meter. I was lucky that there was no one to see me. At this moment I was in 5 200 m above sea level and I realized that if I want to make it any higher, I have to leave my backpack here even though such a thing is not in accordance with my notion of safe hiking. I just could not carry the backpack any longer. I set out again taking with me only a satellite phone, PLB and GPS trying how far I would get. To my surprise, walking without backpack was not any easier. The amount of the oxygen in the air in this altitude is less than half compared to normal, as far as I know. Anyway, I know for sure that the partial pressure is about half compared to the pressure at the sea level. I made it to the big boulder which was about 300 m below the summit and I knew that I was done for this day. I was not gonna make it to the top - I did not have enough strength, I could not catch breath and I felt that I was at the limit of being able to return safely to the village...which really made me well pissed off :) but I do not think it is worth risking life just because of my ego. I am not that self-conceited, or am I?

The way back was tougher then I expected, it was quite an ordeal. I thought that going down was easy but with all the snow it was pretty difficult. I took my backpack and was rushing to get to the tent. I had to walk uphill for a while which was terrible. It took me an hour to pack the tent and stuff because I was dropping everything and I was falling down quite a lot too. I finally managed to pack it but I still have to carry it down the hill. There were more than 1000 m of vertical distance in front of me. To tell the true, I do not even remember how I made it down. I just know that sometimes I was jumping like chamois and that I was walking mechanically resting quite often. Then, I only see myself lying at the river bank wetting my head and drinking like a horse because the sun made me dizzy and thirsty. However, it was a beautiful hike and it was definitely worth the effort! At this moment there is only one thing I know for sure - I will not scale the mountain. It is laughing at me cruelly because it knows that I will not manage to get in shape before more snow come down and the mountain will became completely inaccessible. Anyway, I hope I did not do that bad and I believe that such an experience will come in useful during my way home - a weeklong hike through the frozen Himalayas....but, January is still far from now.

Well, I hope I gave you a picture of my “leisure time activities” and ways of “relaxing”. It is really all from me for now.

I wish you have a great time!

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